Work Header

Dedicate His Beauty

Work Text:



...Away from the light steals home my heavy son,
And private in his chamber pens himself,
Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night:
Black and portentous must this humour prove,
Unless good counsel may the cause remove.

My noble uncle, do you know the cause?

I neither know it nor can learn of him.

Have you importuned him by any means?

Both by myself and many other friends:
But he, his own affections' counsellor,
Is to himself--I will not say how true--
But to himself so secret and so close,
So far from sounding and discovery,
As is the bud bit with an envious worm,
Ere he can spread his sweet leaves to the air,
Or dedicate his beauty to the sun.

(Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene i)

If perhaps he kept running, fast enough and far, Romeo would be outside Verona's walls by morning. Away from his home, the fairest city in all the world. Away from every luxury the house of Montague could afford, from silks and wines and soft bread and the trappings of wealth.

For they were trappings, all of it -- and nothing else.

Away would mean away from the false Rosaline. And that was as clean and pure a thought of "away" that nothing in his father's house held any meaning. For what is a city, thought Romeo of Verona, if staying within its walls should cost his immortal soul?

Romeo would run all night, afraid and deep in thought. And at cock-crow he would turn around again, and walk, his steps heavy with sin and misfortune, to his confessor's cell.

He had told Mercutio they would not speak of Rosaline again. Perhaps it was enough.

It had gone, Mercutio reflected, rather poorly. "I have led you, cousin, on a misadventure," he told Rosaline, "all without your leaving home."

"Oh, fate," Rosaline laughed. "Kiss my cheek then, and tell me, which of Verona's fair flower of manhood has pricked you tonight?"

Rosaline had been fair three years ago, and more than fair, Mercutio thought. A pity she hadn't married Paris, after all -- it would be as good as having laid in a pension.

Particularly if they'd played the switch on him. Would he have died for shock?

"I went a-wooing in your weeds again," he said, "but none of your toffee-fingered, ham-handed, squid-wristed leavings, by your leave. I sought a quarry with a very coat of arms."

"Tell me, then." Rosaline bent herself to loosing Mercutio's firm, false bosom from its moorings. "The finest man in all Verona?"

"None better, though I came nowhere so near to our Prince Escalus."

"Young Benvolio, perhaps?"

"A better quarry, coz! Grant that I have some skill. No truly, Benvolio's as good a man as I am, or rather more so, for he'll marry yet an honest woman. Perhaps he'll make one out of you."

"No man will make anything of me, beloved, save yourself. And you make of me a mockery. Say what was the man, and what his family."

Mercutio pushed away her ministrations, and sank heavily onto her couch. "Romeo, in faith," he sighed. "And now you know it all."

"Oh love," said Rosaline, "you are a fool."

"Love is a fool and so am I." Mercutio was no longer accustomed to hearing his voice break in such a way. "He did not enjoy the jest."

And yet, he had, in point of fact. Put it behind you, Mercutio told himself again, and sipped his tasteless wine.

"Your borrowed name," said Rosaline, "will be the death of you."

"No, sweet Rose." Mercutio stood and reached for his doublet. "I fear my death will be my own, and yours your own sweet wooing hence. We each shall bear our separate imperfections, after tonight."

"You're calling an end to your revels?"

Mercutio shrugged, trying to make it look as though he cared not at all. "I've a beard coming."

Rosaline nodded, looking sad at the lose of her unmarred double. "And thus we prove that Romeo falls too far, too fast in love."

"I told him that same thought myself. But come! Old Capulet will call soon for a masque. Be learned from my teaching, and see that your scars not show. Now we shall see you bear your own name out of door. "

"God save our souls," sighed Rosaline, and petted at his shoulder.

He'd not cried in so very long. "Good cousin, nevermore."

Friar Laurence frowned. "I told you that you courted maids too quick."

"If only maid she'd been, good father, or any kind of woman natural."

"What then?" A frown creased Friar Laurence's round face. "Were you bewitched?"

"Nothing quite so simple, father." Romeo breathed in deep, and breathed again. "Rosaline Capriccio is no true woman born. She's a role, played in jest, by our own Mercutio."

"But that's not so!" the friar protested. "Rosaline was born into my own blessing, and often I see Mercutio at her side."

And thus were we all fools, Romeo thought. "The true Rosaline never goes abroad, without her having mask or veil," Romeo explained. "If you believe you've looked upon her face these past three years, I tell you have glimpsed the finest actor in Verona."

"Your dearest friend. Would he abuse you so?"

Oh, and ever so. "Rosaline drew a brand, he says, across her face, when that she reached fourteen."

"I remember the tale," nodded the friar. "She sought to never marry, and yet to forego holy vows. But her scars were healed at the convent of Our Lady in Firenze, after County Paris sought a richer dowry. Caprizzio took his daughter north, and died in the journey, leaving Rosaline his lifetime's worth, and came she home to Verona."

"And Mercutio has worn her skirts since her return, unless she travel with a veil, or at a ball with visors."

"At Montague's own dinner! It truly was not she?" When Romeo shook his head, the friar clutched at his tonsure in disbelief. "How very alike she and Mercutio are!"

He couldn't, wouldn't, meet the friar's eyes. "He has played the ruse for fun, these past three years. A black wig and his love for theatre."

But Father Laurence knew his work. "More than a jest, perhaps. Spoke he of love to you?"

Silence fell, and Romeo closed his eyes entirely.

The friar's voice was gentle. "Did you come here for confession, my son, or to give an old man prurient gossip?"

Romeo couldn't summon a proper laugh. "And thus shall I make a woman of you too."

"Long have I been unmanned for holy Love. Tell me the matter, young Montague, or have done."

"I have loved him long," said Mercutio, "but he instead will tarry after every pretty girl of name and honor." He was surprised at the heaviness in his own voice.

"As he must do, cousin, or be damned." Rosaline handed him his wine, and took his hand in her own. "Would you pull a loved friend down to damnation with you?"

"I would for certain not do such a thing. If I believed in damnation, or thought my revels less than good of heart. You have never judged me thus, sweet Rosaline. Why do you damn me your damnations now?"

"Always before it was a lark for you. A light thing, a tiny venial sin, to win kisses from Verona's boys and bear a false but winning witness. There was no malice in it, nor passion neither."

"I brought him nothing but sincerest love."

"And lies, Mercutio. Was he not betrayed by your masks and paint and ribbons? Was he not harmed by your beseeming?"

"For all of that, he was," said Mercutio with a sigh. "And thus I give you back your pretty gowns. For I had truly ever only meant to spread an antic merriment."

"And never mortal sin?" Her eyes were as dark as his own, and as somber as his own were, doubtless, now.

Mercutio gave some thought before he spoke, and a sip of wine. "And never pain, at least. I never could tell what sin was. To kiss a boy on the mouth, whose mouth wants well enough to kiss my own? A holy kiss is on the cheek; a manly touch is on the shoulder. But how is your cheek more sacred than your lips, or Romeo's arm blest more than is his thigh? Or to come to it -- to come further, mark you -- is it not all one body in the eyes of Christ?"

Rosaline shook her head, and laughed. "You are a very pretty heretic."

"Marry, it is your face I bear."

"Well, do you take it off, and keep to your new beard. And tell me more of Romeo. For I am your confessor in the night."

Mercutio hugged her close. "In faith, my Rose, you make my heart more light."

She was the most beautiful woman in all Verona. For a fine strong face, for a tall figure and a sprightly gait, there was no other girl in Italy. None so certain of her body, so lithe in every curve and lineament.

And oh, could she dance! She had not left Romeo's arm for the better part of the night, and Romeo had truly no care as to what other women were to be seen at the Montague ball.

Rosaline Capriccio, the heiress, a chaste and pious woman who had, it was said, prayed for boils when County Paris sought to marry her some years ago. She and her father had disappeared one night and made for Firenze, and Rosaline had returned an orphan, with all her father's fortune. She graced every ball and dinner, in elaborate masques when they were called for or, as tonight, with her bare face and unbound black hair.

And Paris had given her over, after all; she was too close kin to the Montagues, even if the Capulets still called her cousin.

For Romeo's part, well, he loved to dance, and more, he loved to dance with the prettiest girls. And tonight he was the most fortunate son of Verona, for he had Rosaline Capriccio on his arm and Benvolio glaring at him with envy.

"None of your mad affairs for me, cousins," Mercutio had said. "I shall dance attendance on my maiden aunt, instead." And he'd gone out to his aunt Constanza's for a short visit, a little way toward Padua. He often went; Constanza was apparently very wealthy and favored her quickest-witted nephew.

So Mercutio didn't get to see him dance with pretty Rosaline, but Romeo could see his own father beaming, and Benvolio's irritated grimace, and that was really all a man needed in this wide world.

Apparently, too, Rosaline was as light in the heels as she was on the rest of her feet. For she stood in such a way, upon the stairs, that Romeo knew he was meant to go up with her, and see that her stays were perhaps on too tightly, and if he might loosen them a little.

Chaste, then, but not perfectly pure. Which suited Romeo entirely well.

They went up the stairs laughing, and Rosaline put her finger to her lips and grinned. Her eyelids were painted to show her pretty brown eyes to advantage. She had thick, expressive brows -- not in the latest fashion, but Romeo liked them anyway. And black hair in waves, and a wide, sweet mouth that was made for kissing.

The neck of her gown was far too high, and done in lace in the French fashion. "Does anyone ever get you out of this fine bodice?" he asked her.

Her voice was low, and sweet. "My nursemaid, surely."

"Fortunate nurse! Will you show me as much favor?"

"Kiss me again and I will think on it," she said, and when he bussed her this time it was an aggressive kiss, one that asked rather more than his previous ones had done.

She met it, and gave it back again, and their bodies rocked together.

He'd never kissed a girl like this before, truly never. "Sweet God," he said, "I think I love you."

"I know well that you do," said Rosaline, her voice rough velvet, so very nearly familiar. "But come, Romeo, have done. Do you not know me?"

"Know you? I should like to know you," he teased, certain it was not too much for this girl.

"And I to give you such knowledge, but truly, cousin, have you not yet guessed my game?" Rosaline reached up and pulled pins from her hair.

And then slid her hair completely off, revealing a blond head that he knew suddenly, and far too well.

"Good Christ, Mercutio!"

Mercutio laughed. "I have fooled you!"

Romeo didn't feel like laughing. His palms were sweaty, and his breath came ragged, and he was disturbed to shaking by Mercutio's jest. "You very nearly had me, at that," he said, reaching for the patience he could usually find when Mercutio's jokes went out of tune. "What mockery is this?"

"In faith, it is a very kind of truth," said Mercutio. "I have been Rosaline's public face since she returned from Firenze. It was a brand she drew across her temple; there were no miracles at Mary's shrine."

"That was when we were yet thirteen. You have played the woman ever since?"

"My aunt Constanza died that Lammas Eve," Mercutio said, "but she was a good excuse, and I was glad enough that she died quietly."

"I see."

"I apologize," Mercutio grinned. "I seem to have left you in some extremity. Should I not have finished the game before I revealed myself?"

Romeo stared at him in horror. "Mercutio, I know not what to say. Should I call for my sword, or for some exorcism? Will you not pull away from me?"

"Does Romeo fear he will be o'ermastered by his lady love?"

"Have done!"

"I shall," said Mercutio, more somberly. "and yet you tell me in truth you did not know what I was about? That you saw my brow and my hand and my throat and you still thought me a maid? That you've heard my voice daily but knew not its alteration? Am I not wondrous tall for a girl?"

"You are not, in faith, wondrous tall for any creature. You are slight and maidenlike -- yes, in truth! -- and not yet a man for all that you are no woman neither."

"I am neither one," said Mercutio quietly. "I love too well this role, cousin. Especially on your arm. And there -- you have unmanned me thus."

"I do not wish it. I would rather you were my dearest friend again, in your proper doublet."

Mercutio sat heavily next to him again, on the couch. "I do not believe you did not know."

"Have I not said that I was fooled?" And yet, Romeo thought, why was he not more angered now?

"Some part of you knew, truly."

"No part of me knew, Mercutio. And some parts were quite well fooled indeed."

Mercutio's hands were on Romeo's doublet again, running his fingers through the laces. "Kiss me again."

"I shall not. We have done sin, Mercutio." He couldn't quite, take Mercutio's hands off of his person. They were big and strong and warm, and how had he not noticed them before, their size and conformity?

"Will you not need to go to your confessor in the morning, anyhow? I have loved you long, and I don't care what guise I love you in."

Something in Romeo's heart moved. Or broke. "And yet you come to me with lies and jests."

"Should I have spoken plainly, even were I able to do so? Have I ever done?"

Romeo touched Mercutio's cheek, then, still painted like a woman's, his eyelashes too long in his face. There was a light down on his cheek under the pale paint. "Marry, you never have."

Their kiss this time was more awkward, but nearly as strong, and Romeo found himself undoing Mercutio's laces. "I must see how you have done it," he excused himself.

"Of course," said Mercutio, and his eyes were strangely shy.

Mercutio leaned against Rosaline's thigh. "We were stripped bare to the waist," he said. "First me, for he took apart all of my laces and bones and saw how the thing was accomplished."

"And then he took off his clothing, just for fairness' sake?"

"I urged him do so," Mercutio agreed. "He is the only man in all Verona, coz."

"And yet Verona is but one city, cousin, and there are such men as you in other towns. The French, they say, are full of buggery."

"The French call it an English vice, and anyway, say not 'buggery'. Nor would I tell you of it done."

"Come, I am your confessor, and crude words are only air, and foul air can be had from Paris' manly presence. So you will see I have endured worse."

That much was true, indeed. "We fell to kissing more, and more was kissed," Mercutio admitted.

"It is the very cleverest contraption," said Romeo, and he ran his hand over Mercutio's bare shoulder. How well fooled he had been!

"I have never before confessed it," said Mercutio, "though once or twice have I been discovered."

"Oho," said Romeo, "what happened then?"

"I should be swived anyhow, thus," and Mercutio cast himself down on top of his spilled skirts, "and made great good sport of it. How else?"

Romeo felt his heart skitter oddly in his chest. "Say you have not done so."

Mercutio was serious. "Aye, I have, cousin, and more than once."

In his mind's eye, Romeo could imagine Mercutio in Rosaline's gown, tupping with some man of Verona at his window. It took some effort to speak. "Were you gartered sometime even as a man?"

"Never yet, though that I'd do as well."

It was as if he might fall into a hundred pieces any moment. "Your immortal soul, Mercutio!"

"It's mainly in a state of grace, and will be hence tomorrow. You have so little faith in shrift?" Mercutio's clever hands led Romeo down to the floor; his pretty eyes bade Romeo sit.

Their foreheads touched, and their lips each made as if to kiss. "When one makes shrift, one vows to go and sin no more," said Romeo, and there was something of despair in his voice as he said it.

"I do so vow, every time." Mercutio's voice was somber. "I swear it is the last time I will go a-hunting, and yet I go and do, and do again." A kiss fell, again, on Romeo's jaw and then his lips. "It cannot be helped: the flesh is fallible, and my will is not much stronger."

"With how many men?" asked Romeo. He felt a damnable arousal. The thing must be admitted, and confessed, upon the morrow.

"I have collected kisses, ever," Mercutio said, "that is my game. I have been thrice unmasked, once almost to a duel, and twice to bed. Once else was I known as a man in skirts, but of no name. And yet that time we played the gambit out, and he called me 'Rosaline' though his very hand were on my prick."

Holy god. "Was it ... endurable, Mercutio?"

Mercutio laughed, a quiet laugh that reached his eyes. "Far more than only that. Will you not let me show you?"

Romeo let the kiss come, then, and it was soft and strong, all at once, and brought a perfect fire into his bones. "And thence to my confessor?" he replied, gasping for breath.

"If you must," said Mercutio, untying Romeo's doublet. "There are better things to do upon your knees than pray. Rest you here a moment, and close your eyes, and pretend that I am Rosaline again. I will take your sin upon me."

And yet, that was not right. "Have we ever sinned," asked Romeo, "that we were not in tandem sinning? Nay, beloved cousin, let me look at you."

Mercutio still lay upon his skirts; Romeo lifted him up, for he was light enough, and then he knelt before him on the couch. "Show me your method of prayer," he said. "I think you still may be the fairest girl in Italy. I shall not shut my eyes and play the maid in turn."

He was not afraid now. Wickedness ran through his veins like hot blood and new wine.

Mercutio slid down in front of Romeo, so they were pressed together at the chest. "O brave and honest Romeo!" he laughed, and Romeo knew it for mockery, but did not care.

More kisses came, and now Romeo was at a loss for how he could have ever thought this man a woman. Strong arms tumbled Romeo to the couch, and Mercutio bade Romeo raise up his hips, so that his hose were slipped straight off. "And there's the very jewel of Montague," Mercutio whispered, and kissed at Romeo's stomach, and kissed lower, and Romeo knew where he was bound and did not, could not, stop him.

Oh, he could have done, he reasoned. If he'd had the moral fiber of a saint, which he had not. Instead he watched Mercutio's too-pretty mouth close around his swollen prick, and felt nothing like to when he took himself in his own hand, but rather a thousand times more desperate than that lighter sin.

And Romeo knew in that moment the difference, then, between the mortal and the venial, and it was this: that some sins could be forgotten, and others were burned into the soul until the end of days.

And still he was not sorry, but clutched at Mercutio's blond hair, and thrust his hips forward in time with Mercutio's mouth. "Your mouth is clever even when I've closed it up," he gasped, and then could not stop laughing.

Mercutio pressed a kiss to his hip. "No fair to spar with words when I am thus occupied."

"You have taken the advantage of me, nevertheless," said Romeo, and he kissed Mercutio, tasting his own salt on Mercutio's tongue. "Will you not go on as you have done? Whither are you hasting?"

"An you wish it, coz, I would gladly hasten thee. But I have another thought." Mercutio stood, and gave his hand to Romeo, who rose on unsteady legs, half-lost and aching hard. "Put your arms about me, thus," he instructed, "and take me in your hand."

Romeo was taller and broader than Mercutio by some good amount. He did as he was bid; Mercutio's prick all but leapt into his palm. "And now like so?" This, at least, was something more familiar.

"Yes, you have it. Oh!" Mercutio's legs buckled under him as he came, and Romeo only caught him on enough time to see him back to his knees. "Exactly so," said Mercutio, and groaned. His seed had spilt all over Romeo's hand. "Will you complete this?"

Romeo would do anything, anything at all. He nodded, and Mercutio pressed himself against the couch, and offered more, his low voice guiding Romeo inside of him. "Exactly, so. And do not be gentle, Romeo. Use me, as I have used you. It is so with men."

Romeo had not been certain he could do as Mercutio bid, but when the moment came he was capable enough, and then he was inside of Mercutio's very body. Never had he been before, with man or woman, and he could not imagine it with anyone less trusted, or less beloved.

And then all sense was lost, for a little while, and they laid there pressed against the couch, with Romeo's chin on Mercutio's slender shoulder. "Ah, me," Romeo whispered at last.

Mercutio turned and took Romeo in his arms. "I thought you might draw on me," he said, "or cry for your father's guards."

"Had it been any other, perhaps." Romeo pressed a kiss to Mercutio's temple. "But you have ever led me into temptation."

Mercutio's eyes went dark. "And still will you go and call this sin?"

Quite of a sudden Romeo felt lost, and angered, and afraid. "It has some other name?" he asked. "I am in mortal terror for your soul, Mercutio."

Mercutio pushed away. "Look you to your own, and leave me mine," he said, and reached for his discarded gown.

His gown. His women's clothing. "What have we done?" he breathed in disbelief.

"Why, what any two men may do, beloved cousin." Mercutio gestured for Romeo to tie him back into his crumpled finery. "Will you not have peace? Are we henceforth to be angered at each other?"

"Say not so," said Romeo, "but I beg of you, let us not speak of this night again between us. Let it simply be an adventure we have had, and let it rest." He bent to retrieve Mercutio's false hair.

Mercutio grabbed him by the arm, instead. "Look into my eyes and say that you felt not love."

"Are you now to play the maid again? It was adventure, nothing more, and I say that I shall go to shrift, and put it in the past."

Mercutio -- now Rosaline again -- picked up his cloak. "And I say to you that thou'rt a very pretty fool. But I shall take pains never again to mention this night. Since I do doubt you'll misremember." And he leaned in and kissed Romeo, hard, upon the mouth, and disappeared down the hall.

"Cousin," Romeo whispered, "you are right."

"In faith, we committed sodomy," Romeo admitted. "And I do confess it fully, for I arose from our couch in terror for my soul."

"Sin will bring horror," Friar Laurence consoled him. "It is the sign of a worthy soul that you felt shame straightaway."

"I did feel shame," Romeo said, "but also desire, father. I love Mercutio so very well that I couldn't begrudge this sport of him."

"At the cost of your immortal life?"

Romeo rose, and went to the window of the friar's cell. "I ran all night, straight for Padua bound. And then I thought, I cannot outrun my love for him, nor my judgment under God. And thus I came to you to confess them both, and seek your counsel."

Father Laurence rested a firm hand on Romeo's shoulder. "My advice is to put it past you, with a clean heart, and to seek a better lady love. We shall put it about that Rosaline is too pious and chaste to seek honorable marriage, and you may make a show of your broken heart for some days."

Romeo's shoulders shook at this. "I feel it truly."

"Then is your penance done. See to it at the next masque or dance you fall upon the hand of a truer maid, and seek marriage with her straight. For another love will ease your pains."

Romeo regarded him. "You do not seem shocked by the night's events." Had Mercutio ever said a word to him of this? Of his well-kissed boys and well-tupped men?

"I hear the confessions of all Verona, lad," was all the friar would say of it. "I worry for your wayward heart, but it will soon rest right again. Now turn you home to your rosary, and count out your prayers in seclusion from your friends and family."

Rosaline's eyes were wide. "Did he take you, then?"

"Like no other man has ever done. He made love to my outside and my very inside. Look to the blush on your cheek! Shall you marry then a Montague?"

"Neither I nor you shall know his passions more. I assume he went away discomfited, by all your sighs and sorry looks."

"Straight to his confessor, or to his suicide. I knew not what, but was angered enough I did not care."

Rosaline sniffed at that. "You care a great deal, in faith."

"I set Benvolio on his chase," Mercutio admitted. "I feared that Romeo would run from me. Though when we parted he said he was amazed, not angered. And that we would only never speak of it again."

"You don't intend to let your fine fish slip so easily."

Patience it would take, and nothing more. "My Montague will set himself to wiggling and a-writhing," Mercutio shrugged. "He'll find his nature swims upstream, for all his desperate striving."

Romeo grabbed at Mercutio's collar as they entered into the Capulet's house. "Why speakest thou of dreams and fairies, thus?" Romeo asked him.

"You shall ape in your own way, and I in mine," said Mercutio. "Shall I then tease you more of Rosaline, and aid you in your penance?"

Romeo's eyes flashed. "I expect she pricks at you no less than she at me."

"In faith, she does, and look! There is the truest article." Mercutio pointed at his cousin as she passed -- a pretty woman, and very like Mercutio in height and manner, underneath her domino.

Romeo couldn't bear to look at her. "Rest you merry, then."

"Will you not dance?" Mercutio asked him. "Truly, you are the finest dancer of our band."

"Then better I not show myself a Montague in the home of my father's enemy. I will look upon your Rosaline, and like not what I see."

"You hold her scars against her?"

"Marry, no, truly. I hold mine against me. Go your ways and dance. I shall look for a pretty daughter of Verona, and see you not at all."

"You are like a child who will place his hands over his ears and not hear his own heart."

"I know my duty to my family and to God, Mercutio."

Mercutio leaned back against the wall, a picture of frustration. "You are a pompous, pious idiot."

"And you are damned, my love," Romeo returned, "so go you hence to church."

Benvolio stuck his head back out around the arras. "Will you not come, Mercutio?"

"I go and come wherever I shall please," Mercutio called after him, and sketched to Romeo a low, ironic bow. "God grant you good night, coz, and good heart's ease."

Romeo rested his head in turn against the cool wall of Capulet's house, and hated Mercutio for a moment with all his being.

And lifted up his eyes to see a tiny, fair hand against a tiny, fair face, staring at him across a room. A delicate girl in plain white, her neck laid bare and true, her brown hair falling around her waist, escorted into the room on the arm of an elder Capulet. Her soft curves were perfect, her wrists and fingers delicate as lace.

Romeo caught the eye of a servingman. "What lady is that, that doth enrich the hand of yonder knight?"

Truly, he had never been in love before now.

"You love her not," Mercutio argued, "and shall not go up to church today."

Romeo shook his head. "I tell you truly that I do love her. She is a girl as any man could wish for, and her eyes look like they love me, and she makes the blood run hot in my veins, Mercutio, and I was sore afraid it would not do so ever."

For pity's sake, this was disaster. "It ran for women before our meeting, and will do again, Romeo. You need not cast yourself before the first strumpet Capulet who will hang out of a window!"

It was the wrong tack to take. "You shall not profane her so."

"It is unworthy of me, I know, cousin," Mercutio said hastily. "Forgive me. I find myself quite green with maddened jealousy, that you have found love and so soon forgotten me."

"Mercutio." He had not forgotten, indeed; that much was plain.


"Do not leave a while yet." Romeo rested his head against Mercutio's shoulder, a warm weight in his arms, and then: "I would you saw me wedded."

"I am not fit for it, Romeo, I swear you." Mercutio reached out and pushed Romeo's hair behind his ears. "Know you Tybalt means to have you killed?"

Romeo leaned his head back against the wall, his posture irresistible. "He soon will be my kinsman." He did not move as Mercutio laid his lips against his bared neck. "Have done," he said at last, his eyes black with want. "Stay out of any fray, Mercutio, I beg of you."

Mercutio pressed Romeo's arms against the wall and kissed him; Romeo gasped at him, his mouth still open as Mercutio pulled away. "As my lord bids me, so will I try to do."

Romeo was shaking, though with desire or rage Mercutio wasn't certain. He placed a firm hand on Mercutio's chest and pushed him away. "If you will not go with me, then please just go."

Mercutio turned and walked away. Not looking back. "I wish you every joy of her, good Romeo."

Romeo watched in horror as Mercutio drew his sword. "Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?"

Don't do this, Romeo thought as they sparred. Don't kill him to spare me the trouble of his murder. "Gentle Mercutio, put thy rapier up!"

Romeo stared in shared horror at Benvolio, who stood as one amazed. "Draw, Benvolio," Romeo called to him. "Beat down their weapons! Gentlemen, for shame, forbear this outrage!" He maneuvered himself between them. "Tybalt," he said to his new cousin, and, "Mercutio," he panted, "the prince expressly has forbidden bandying in Verona streets..." Romeo grabbed Mercutio, who was closest, and neatly disarmed him. "Hold, Tybalt!"

And Tybalt's blade, thus aided, slid into Mercutio's side. He screamed in agony.

"Good Mercutio!" Romeo had never seen so much blood, in all their trials together.

"I am hurt," Mercutio gasped. "A plague o'both your houses!" he spat. "I am sped. What, is he gone, and hath nothing?"

Benvolio had started to chase Tybalt, and came back now. "What, art thou hurt?"

"Aye," he said, his breathing shallow. "A scratch, a scratch. Marry, 'tis enough. Where is my page?" His unfortunate man hove into view. "Go, villain! Fetch a surgeon."

Romeo pulled off his own tunic for a bandage. He'd been married in it, less than an hour ago. "Courage, man," he told Mercutio, though it looked bad indeed. "The hurt cannot be much."

"No," Mercutio gasped. "'Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but 'tis enough. 'Twill serve." He took hold of Romeo's hand and squeezed it a little, his grasp terrifyingly weak. "Ask for me tomorrow," he said, smiling his crooked smile, "and you shall find me a grave man."

No, Romeo said, but his lips made no sound.

Mercutio coughed, and blood came up. "I am peppered, I warrant, for this world." His eyes were wet with tears -- or Romeo's were; he couldn't be sure. "A plague o'both your houses!" he said, and though it made little difference, Romeo knew Mercutio didn't mean Tybalt at all, but Romeo's own two houses, joined now in marriage.

"Zounds," said Mercutio dismissively, following his thought. "A dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death! A braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic!" And Mercutio had so often made his opinion of Tybalt known that Romeo could only nod, stupidly, and press harder on Mercutio's wound.

Benvolio came up with two pages, and they bound Mercutio onto a stretcher. Mercutio held still to Romeo's hand. "Why the devil came you between us?" Mercutio hissed. "I was hurt under your arm."

Romeo let the tears come, and felt a fool. "I thought all for the best," he said, and let Mercutio's hand go, that Benvolio and the others could carry him indoors.

"Help me into some house, Benvolio, or I shall faint," Mercutio said then, turning his eyes away from Romeo. He groaned again with pain, and it was no sham; Romeo felt an answering agony in his own stomach. "A plague o'both your houses!" he cried back at Romeo as they carried him off. "They have made worms' meat of me."

Romeo felt his heart fly right out of his body, felt it follow Mercutio down the street as, true to his own way, Mercutio continued talking to Benvolio, risking his desperate strength. "I have it, and soundly too."

And once more, his voice echoed down the main square of Verona: "Your houses!" Romeo had never felt rage in his life, before now. He would kill Tybalt, or follow Mercutio into damnation this very day.

"Be silent now, good Mercutio," Benvolio said as he helped to carry his friend out of the street.

"There is no time. Hear my confession, Benvolio."

"I am no churchman, cousin."

"Thou'rt closer God than I and it will serve. Know only this: that which I did, I did for love of Romeo. I have attempted murder, and done licentious deeds, and hated with a poisoned envy, all for love of Romeo. I have born false witness, but said my shrift for that, in faith. And Romeo was after all the death of me, for any other man I would have stabbed straightaway for grabbing at me in a duel."

"I am certain God will love you; you are too light a heart to sink below. But hush, I pray thee, you will need your strength."

"I need it no more, Benvolio," said Mercutio, and then he died, even as the surgeon came.

"And that was the story of it," Benvolio said to raven-haired Rosaline Caprizzio, her face hidden in a black mourning veil. "And now have Capulet and Montague ended their quarrel. But at such cost. And Romeo and Juliet each died a cursed suicide."

Rosaline crossed herself. "You were Romeo's kinsman, and knew Mercutio well."

"They had a passionate love of each other."

"It is as you say. And yet Romeo loved Juliet -- oh, my pretty cousin! Well, she would rather have died than marry Paris, I suppose. And Romeo would rather have died, I think, than live with Mercutio's death, and banished from his Juliet's company. Though think me that Paris and Tybalt would rather still be breathing."

"And Mercutio?" Benvolio refilled Rosaline's wine. "I fear he would have rather died than see Romeo wed."

"He told you so?" she said, and paused, her glass still halfway to her lips. She seemed to steel herself, then lifted up her mourning veil. "Did he tell you all?"

She was the most beautiful woman Benvolio had ever seen. She had a thick white scar across her left cheek. "You look so much like Mercutio," he said softly. "I never knew that you still had your scar."

"It came back across my face," said Rosaline, "when all my poor cousins died."

"You have some small luck," Benvolio told her, "to so far scape our generation's curse with so light a touch."

He raised his glass to Rosaline's dark, long-lashed eyes. They were wet with tears.

"To the end of curses," said Rosaline, "and of scars."